Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer


Posted by Dr. Vollmer on March 26, 2014




“We have a system of justice in this country that treats you much better if you’re rich and guilty than if you’re poor and innocent. Wealth, not culpability, shapes outcomes. And yet, we seem to be very comfortable. The politics of fear and anger have made us believe that these are problems that are not our problems. We’ve been disconnected.”


Bryan Stevenson is my hero today. ” He spoke at TED2012 in Long Beach, California, and received the strongest standing ovation ever seen at TED.[3] Following his presentation, over $1 million was raised by attendees to fund a campaign run by Stevenson to end the practice of putting children in adult jails and prisons. [4]” 


He is a new hero for me, as I was not familiar with him until I popped into the TED radio hour, leaving his presentation with such sadness about our, the United States, society. “We love innovation. We love technology. We love creativity. We love entertainment. But ultimately, those realities are shadowed by suffering,abuse, degradation, marginalization. And for me, it becomes necessary to integrate the two. Because ultimately we are talking about a need to be more hopeful, more committed, more dedicated to the basic challenges of living in a complex world. And for me that means spending time thinking and talking about the poor, the disadvantaged, those who will never get to TED. But thinking about them in a way that is integrated in our own lives.”

“And as I was walking up the steps of this courthouse, there was an older black man who was the janitor in this courthouse. When this man saw me, he came over to me and he said, “Who are you?” I said, “I’m a lawyer.” He said, “You’re a lawyer?” I said, “Yes, sir.” And this man came over to me and he hugged me. And he whispered in my ear. He said, “I’m so proud of you.” And I have to tell you, it was energizing. It connected deeply with something in me about identity, about the capacity of every person to contribute to a community, to a perspective that is hopeful.”

It is so easy to deny the suffering of others, or to think that those who suffer deserve their pain. The higher road is to feel that vulnerability, that sense that we share a civilization that without the privilege of love, education, support and the absence of trauma, we can easily slip into despair and aggression, both outward and inward. This message hearkens back to my post about Adam Lanza. His aggression is not surprising, but rather it reminds us of how tragedy begets tragedy. His personal tragedy of not being able to find mental peace spilled over into the tragedy of his father, Peter Lanza, who has to live with his son’s notorious legacy, and the tragedy in each family who suffered the shocking loss of their innocent loved one. Suffering is our common bond. It reminds us that the world needs to help one another diminish suffering, rather than separate ourselves from the pain of others. This separation creates the inequality gap, the opportunity gap, and most importantly the emotional gap because we lose touch with our own layers of despair and hopelessness which creep in from time to time. Understanding these common feelings brings us together as a society. Splitting off these feelings creates a shallow existence, where, as Bryan Stevenson says, “that we cannot be full evolved human beings until we care about human rights and basic dignity. That all of our survival is tied to the survival of everyone. ” No wonder he got the largest standing ovation in TED history. He needed to remind us that we easily go into denial, to our own detriment.

One Response to “Injustice”

  1. Shelly said

    Yes, his words are inspiring, but wait. Who are the people who are going to take up the battle cry? Those who have the financial means to make a difference, not the underprivileged and the poor, the weak and the needy. Those who have the “privilege of love, education, support and the absence of trauma” are exactly the financial demographic who can afford to take on these large, bigger-than-life crusades. The rest of us need to make the best of each day, trying to get by in our day-to-day struggles of feeding our families and keeping them safe. Yes, his words may have been inspiring and the audience may have loved him, but how many of you (well, not you personally!) are going to go out after the TED-talk and change the world? Very, very few.

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